The Empire Strikes Back.
For the first time all summer South Africa looked genuinely out of sorts, being bowled out for a sub-par total that England were able to chase down relatively easily, despite a slight wobble towards the end. The home side reclaim top spot in the rankings, although they neglected to freeze Hashim Amla in carbonite.
England’s ODI success of recent times has been built around an impressive bowling attack. Despite getting twenty overs from James Tredwell and Ravi Bopara (and not even bothering to ask Samit Patel to work up a sweat trundling in), the home side were excellent in the field, a huge improvement on the previous game. James Anderson picked up four wickets but it was the recalled Jade Dernbach that caught the eye. For a long time Dernbach was all over the shop, lurching from one type of delivery to another like an AT-AT Walker with its legs tied together, but he seems to now be maturing into a genuine ODI bowler. His dismissal of Dean Elgar, the batsman missing a back of the hand slower ball by some distance, was a beauty.
That’s not to say that England’s performance was by any means perfect. The travails of Ravi Bopara continued (despite a very tidy spell with the ball) as he made yet another duck, being given out caught behind. The batsman was convinced he didn’t hit it, and HotSpot seemed to back him up, but the evidence of a large noise as ball passed the bat was enough to support the umpire’s original decision. Since being dropped from England’s Test side his run of scores reads 0, 1, 3, 2, 16 and 0, with a break in the middle to deal with some undefined personal issues. Quite what man of the moment Jonny Bairstow has to do to earn a place in the side isn’t clear, but it might be worth him dyeing his hair, just in case.
Eoin Morgan has become something of a forgotten man recently but he was at his aggressive best, making 73 in a partnership of 108 with Jonathan Trott, who played the anchor role perfectly. The only downside was that Samit Patel scored the winning run, giving the false impression that he actually contributed something other than record profits for the Oval’s burger vans.
A bit of a bad day at the office for South Africa. Their bowling wasn’t actually too bad, it was just that the batsmen didn’t give them anywhere near enough to work with. Indeed their innings followed a fairly similar pattern to that of England’s in the previous game: a number of batsmen getting starts but no-one going on to make a serious score.
After a tour in which almost everything has gone to plan (bar some minor wicketkeeper blindness), there won’t be any panic in the South African camp. The top order still looks intimidating – their opening partnership of 50 was the second largest of the match – although the middle order could do without another stodgy innings from Elgar, who’s struggled to get the ball off the square in two innings so far.
The two sides head back to Lord’s on Sunday for the fourth game in the series. With Swann and Broad rested plus Chris Woakes being made available for Warwickshire’s CB40 semi-final on Saturday, England seem unlikely to make changes, unless Steve Finn is next in line for a KP-goading rest. South Africa may want to adjust their batting lineup slightly – Wayne Parnell at number seven is optimistic, to say the least – but will probably look to a similar side to simply perform better.
And a prediction? We’re not very good at them. South Africa to win by ten wickets.